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Editorial: Terry Godfrey, Ken Dauber for Palo Alto school board

 

Palo Alto has long been known for the quality of its public schools and the teachers and aides who create a dynamic and rich learning environment for our children.

It's also known for parents with very high expectations who not only ask a lot of their kids but also of teachers and administrators.

These high-powered and high-achieving parents provide immense financial and volunteer support to the schools. But they also too often develop a sense of entitlement, which can lead to a perception that some parents have more influence over their child's educational experience than others.

When the school board or superintendent allow these parents, whether big donors, active school volunteers or friends of school board members, to have the ear of those in charge, distrust and resentment builds, conflicts arise and the entire system is compromised. And when secrecy sets in, trust in the fairness of the system is jeopardized.

It therefore takes both a strong superintendent and a strong school board to successfully and equitably lead a district like Palo Alto and ensure that all students get the education, attention and discipline they need, and that teachers are respected, supported and held properly accountable.

For too many years we have had neither an effective school board nor superintendent, resulting in a lot of messes that now need to be cleaned up. That is what this election is all about: repair and healing.

Thankfully, there is reason for optimism. Early indications are that our brand-new superintendent, Max McGee, is intent on addressing problems that have been festering for way too long.

For example, he has made clear he intends to strongly support educational innovation but will also rigorously evaluate programs and then implement best practices throughout the district rather than allow the inefficiencies of many similar but different programs (or policies).

He has vowed to deal with difficult or controversial issues head-on and see them through to resolution quickly and openly, not let them drag on and become mired in a transparency-killing district bureaucracy, committees and closed-door meetings.

He has pronounced the need to get a long-overdue new elementary school open after years of irrational starts and stops. And, in his first significant personnel move, he has made the director of special education one of his direct reports, acknowledging that this program is in need of better leadership, a change in culture and greater oversight.

But to succeed in fixing problems and moving our district forward, McGee and our community also need a well-functioning school board. With both incumbents whose seats are up for election, Barb Mitchell and Dana Tom, wisely choosing not to seek third terms, the community is assured of badly needed new voices and skills, and hopefully a change in the operation of the board.

This election is less about differences on specific school issues and more about who can best restore the trust and confidence of a school community tired of conflict, defensiveness and a lack of strong leadership and logical decision-making.

Four of the five candidates bring stellar qualifications, but since only two slots are open, choices must be made. And while we value the backgrounds of all the candidates, in our opinion Terry Godfrey and Ken Dauber are clearly in the best position to work with McGee to chart a fresh path forward and begin a healthy rebuilding process.

Dauber narrowly missed being elected two years ago after an ugly and unfair whisper campaign made him persona non grata among school insiders who felt he would rock the boat too much with his probing questions, his data-analysis expertise and his advocacy for addressing student stress.

This time Dauber's base of support has extended to all corners of the district, as many parents have come to realize that the last two years of the district's mishandling of school bullying policies, fighting with the Office for Civil Rights, running up ridiculous legal bills and tolerating one administrative misstep after another have proven him largely right.

No one, and certainly none of the other candidates, has committed anything close to the time, energy and patience Dauber has in following, studying and advocating on district issues during these difficult two years. He has been a voice for reason, transparency, data-driven decision-making and for respectful treatment of all parents, teachers and students.

A sociologist with a Ph.D. and college professor turned Google engineer with educational data-crunching and analysis in his background, Dauber has practically been a sixth board member in the room at board meetings, often weighing in on issues with more clarity and insight than board members. We are squandering this resource to our detriment if we do not elect him to the board this time around.

His early campaign positions on opening a 13th elementary school, on bringing back foreign-language instruction to elementary schools, on collecting and using data to evaluate programs, on cutting back on legal services and other expenditures that do not help kids, and on rejecting the board's resolution criticizing the federal Office for Civil Rights have mostly been embraced by the other candidates.

Our other choice is Terry Godfrey, who is also ready and able to make an immediate positive impact on the board and the district. A former Intel senior financial and human resources manager; PTA Council president and immediate past president of PiE, the district-wide fundraising organization; and part of the Project Safety Net leadership team, she knows the district backwards and forwards and has wide support and deep connections in the community.

Freed from the constraints of having to represent and speak on behalf of organizations like the PTA and PiE, Godfrey has surprised us during the campaign with her candor and her clear, thoughtful and firm positions, including several that are critical of the board and administration and that show strong independence.

For example, after listening carefully to the board's June discussion on adopting a resolution critical of the Office for Civil Rights, she decided the resolution was a bad idea and has made clear in the campaign that she does not support spending any money on the lobbying efforts it authorized. She is critical of the way the current board avoids documenting their actions by not making formal motions or taking votes on important issues, which she correctly observes leads to confusion, muddled decision-making and a lack of accountability.

As a former HR manager, she said she would have voted to fire former Paly principal Phil Winston in the wake of the district's findings of sexual harassment. And she believes the hiring of a district communications coordinator was a mistake given other district priorities. She has also helped advocate for special-education families and has seen first hand the need for improvements in this program. And she has been a leading proponent of foreign-language instruction in the elementary schools.

Like Dauber, Godfrey will help to elevate the functioning of the board, bring an independent voice and move us away from the "group think" that has entrapped the current board.

Gina Dalma and Catherine Crystal Foster each offer strong backgrounds as education professionals that make them well-qualified to serve, but neither has the depth of experience within the district that makes them competitive with Godfrey or Dauber.

Dalma is the senior education program officer for the Silicon Valley Community Foundation and is immersed in all the education issues facing our diverse region, especially relating to the transition to Common Core and the achievement gap. She was born in Mexico and offers an unusual opportunity to diversify the board. She is strongly policy-oriented and believes our district should be collaborating much more closely with cutting-edge districts and Stanford's School of Education to implement proven educational reforms and innovations.

Foster is a non-practicing lawyer who has done extensive consulting in educational policy, programming and evaluation. She recently completed a brief stint as executive director of the Peninsula College Fund, a small nonprofit that provides low-income, first-generation college students with scholarship and academic assistance. She has emphasized her commitment to addressing the achievement gap and evaluating the many district programs that are aimed at helping at-risk students, as well as improving and shortening board meetings and creating more transparency in district decision-making.

The fifth candidate, Jay Cabrera, is a 1998 Gunn and UC Santa Cruz graduate who admits being unfamiliar with local school issues but emphasizes the value of having a younger and more recent graduate on the board. He is a strong advocate for using technology to enable greater community participation in district decision-making.

As often happens, all five candidates have begun sounding very similar on most issues facing the district. The biggest divide has been over the school board's handling of parent bullying complaints and the various civil-rights cases brought by the Office for Civil Rights.

Godfrey, Dauber, Dalma and Cabrera have been unequivocal in their opposition to the actions of the board in deciding to spend district resources to lobby nationally for changes in OCR procedures and fight for the re-opening of a two-year-old settled case, while Foster has taken a very troubling nuanced position.

She has said it is "inappropriate" and "irresponsible" for anyone to speculate or take a position on the board's actions on OCR without examining all the confidential materials that the board has seen but has not released to the public. Her statement that if she could determine that OCR made all the mistakes that the resolution enumerated she would have voted for it shows the same lack of vision as the board for how the district should move beyond this controversy and stop diverting precious resources to it.

Her position criticizing those who have expressed their opinions publicly on a matter under consideration by the school board is especially disheartening, as is her own complete public silence during the last two years on any matters that came before the board on any subject, including the OCR controversies. This is not leadership.

If they take a more active role in district issues going forward, we think both Foster and Dalma will be excellent candidates in two years when three board seats will be open. The community would be lucky to have a board made up of these four people, and we hope these two will keep their passion for kids and improving our district alive and be back in 2016.

For now, however, we urge the election of Terry Godfrey and Ken Dauber as the best way to restore public confidence in the governance of our school district.

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Comments

9 people like this
Posted by Emma
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 3, 2014 at 9:10 am

Emma is a registered user.

Editor: You seem to believe that leadership is about being reactive to appease the masses instead of building a deep understanding of issues that are often nuanced and complicated. Catherine Crystal Foster is the only candidate to display the leadership the board needs by standing by her principles of rational analysis and understanding the evidence. It is possible that the OCR [portion removed] was behaving badly. It would not be the first time that a federal agency is at fault. I too would want to know the full picture before rushing to judgment.


5 people like this
Posted by Facts and Figures
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 3, 2014 at 9:46 am

Facts and Figures is a registered user.

[Portion removed.] We need School Board Members who carefully look at all the facts and serve all District students, their families and their teachers, as well as the Administration. We have multiple candidates with hands-on experience like this for the District (like Ms. Godfrey) and others who have broader hands-on experience (like Ms. Foster). It's time to focus on the facts.


6 people like this
Posted by iSez
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 3, 2014 at 11:18 am

iSez is a registered user.

It's important to look at more than just experience. Just as an Ivy League degree doesn't guarantee success, job experience with schools doesn't guarantee the best person for the job. [Portion removed.]

I don't know why Foster is being raked through the coals about the OCR, as if that's the only issue now. She wasn't on the BoE, so why ask her to speculate on a decision? I have worked with her and while I find her political attorney answers to be irritating, I know she would be a great addition to the board. She would study all the issues, has good judgement and would be fair. There is more to the BoE than the OCR issue. [Portion removed.] She would work on the achievement gap that so many complain about, and as noted above, she has good experience in education policy. She is on the same page as the superintendent too.

Ken Dauber, I'm in agreement that he would work hard for us, be productive, and he is certainly open-minded to improvement.


4 people like this
Posted by JNZR
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 3, 2014 at 2:06 pm

JNZR is a registered user.

We all agree that there is always a need to identify and support good leadership. Having worked with the community, the district, and the School Board on various issues over the years, I have discovered this to be even tougher than I expected. We live in a diverse community, which is our strength and sometimes our weakness. Strength, because diversity makes the community more vibrant and open-minded to different ways of thinking and belief. Weakness, because sometimes it divides the community and lessens our resolve to work together. This is where a good leader on the School Board excels in his/her ability to bring a diverse community together collaboratively to discuss openly what divides us and bring us all to one cause - helping our children, our students thrive in their education and childhood.

[Portion removed.]

Who we elect to the School Board is extremely important. It will affect more than how well our school district is run. As we have seen, it affects the wellbeing of our whole community. I hope all the voters out there will spend time to carefully evaluate each of the candidates. We need strong leadership that will value diverse thinking and at the end, be able to bring the community closer together for the betterment of our students and children.


Like this comment
Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 3, 2014 at 2:10 pm

Marie is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


14 people like this
Posted by Jason S.
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 3, 2014 at 2:32 pm

Jason S. is a registered user.

The endorsement of Dauber is no surprise. The Weekly has been backing Dauber on the OCR issue since the beginning. Fortunately, voters in Palo Alto are smart enough to make their own decision. [Portion removed.]


12 people like this
Posted by Emma
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 3, 2014 at 5:21 pm

Emma is a registered user.

Dear Editor: I’m requesting that the Palo Alto Weekly provide the objective, fact-based reporting that this community deserves. You have a history of reporting only selected perspectives of a story, omitting facts that might provide a more complete understanding of an issue. [Portion removed.] Palo Alto deserves better than the journalism you offer.


Posted by True Blue
a resident of Adobe-Meadow

on Oct 3, 2014 at 9:33 pm

True Blue is a registered user.


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8 people like this
Posted by chini
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 3, 2014 at 9:33 pm

chini is a registered user.

Dear Editor:

I agree that the community is tired of conflict but would electing folks
with entrenched views that directly conflict with other board members and
the new superintendent necessarily create a productive environment? I have
found Catherine Crystal Foster's measured approach and deliberate responses
quite refreshing that I am confident that she will work nicely with any one
of the other candidates running, current board members, and the new
superintendent in bringing ideas to fruition by building consensus and
without creating conflicts.

I have attended several board meetings, presented my views, listened
to others, and watched the proceedings. I used to wonder about the
unanimous votes and realized that just because the end result is
a unanimous vote doesn't mean that each individual board member did not
have his or her input into the matter. The discussions were cordial, often
lengthy, but brought out nuances that otherwise would have been missed
had the meeting been rushed. Definitely, there's a balance which requires
self-evaluation and continuous improvement that I am sure the new board
and the superintendent will pursue to the fullest extent.

As a parent attending the board meetings regularly, I could not figure
out the political aspect of the OCR legal issue. [Portion removed.] I think it is
time now to implement, monitor, and evaluate school safety programs
and train the staff to notice problems early. [Portion removed.]


Posted by True Blue
a resident of Adobe-Meadow

on Oct 3, 2014 at 10:11 pm

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7 people like this
Posted by peppered
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 3, 2014 at 10:46 pm

peppered is a registered user.

Oh, I just loved the part about Mitchell and Tom "wisely choosing not to seek third terms." Had me in splits. If only they'd been wiser still and not bothered to run in the first place, we could have avoided much of the idiocy that emanated from this dysfunctional board.


Posted by True Blue
a resident of Adobe-Meadow

on Oct 3, 2014 at 11:08 pm

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3 people like this
Posted by Alphonso
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Oct 5, 2014 at 1:55 pm

Alphonso is a registered user.

The main thing - make sure to vote! Most likely less than a third of the voters sill participate in this election. It certainly is too bad The Weekly is not an objective source of information, but all that means you have to do a little more homework.


Like this comment
Posted by Sea REDDY
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 24, 2014 at 1:08 pm

Sea REDDY is a registered user.

Dear Palo Alto citizens

Demand the candidates to have high integrity.

$50k + for local city hall council candidacy?

Watch out! Who are your candidates signed with?

They are all bill and Melinda gates + warren buffet clones!

My god, they do not want any favors from city hall?

I trust Palo Alto citizens judgement.

The world is watching us.

Set an example!!!!


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